“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”
I put my hands on my hips. “I won the bet so start talking.”
“No one likes a sore winner.”
I rose a brow.
“Very well. Please sit down.”
When we were both in comfortable positions across from each other he steepled his fingers.
“I’m not very powerful.”
I scoffed. “I saw you fight a giant demon.”
“Want me to explain or not?”
He sighed. “To those outside, it appears as if reapers are singular entities that help souls cross to their next journey or come back from death. In actuality, we have a vast hierarchy where the date of each reaper’s graduation determines their place within the organization, with the Council of Seven at the top. These Seven determine the rules each reaper abides by as well as how they’re disciplined.”
He sucked in a shuddering breath. “I broke a rule. Serving here is my punishment.”
“What did you do?”
A pain filled laughed coughed out of him. “I killed someone the Seven wanted to keep alive.”
I stopped breathing, unable to imagine him killing anyone. He had to have some explanation, some reason that made sense, but I’d leave that question for another time.
“They let me off easy but gave me rules I must comply with. Each one I break will make me suffer a prescribed torture.”
“So, telling me I’m ready to face Phenic was against the rules. But what was the punishment? And why is that a rule?”
“In this place, I must remain neutral. I’m only here to revive the miners or take those tired of death to their next journey. I don’t know for certain but I suspect the Kingdom of Goraitheshselan has paid the council in some form of power to keep these mines like this.”
“But what about the punishment? And why didn’t you get tortured when you taught me those two techniques?”
He cleared his throat. “I saw an imbalance between you and the others. I corrected it.”
“Because the other players aren’t physically here and also have access to the internet. I’m guessing they have a physical avatar of some kind that’s invisible to me.”
“Okay, I get it. But what kind of sadistic torture could make you look so thin and bruised?”
“Life and death mana starvation and bombardment.” He smiled. “I can see from your face you have no idea what that is. How to describe it?”
He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “To become a reaper is a long arduous process. The first steps require forcing one's own body to survive solely on life and death type mana for all nutritional requirements. This also removes the need to consume nutrition, sleep or use the restroom.”
“That sounds suspiciously similar to what Nenvari did to my body.”
“In a way. Yes. But It would depend on the type he used to turn your body into that of an avatar’s.”
“Wait. You have to eat mana?”
He chuckled. “I don’t eat it. After becoming a reaper it naturally flows into my body from wherever it is nearby. Which is everywhere, even here.”
“If it’s so plentiful then how did they starve you?”
“My senior brought an Orethelian box into the space between and forced me into it for, to my perspective, several months. It’s a device similar to your realm’s vacuum chamber except it’s for mana. And when my body was thoroughly starved they let me out and bombed me with arrows of pure death mana. It wouldn’t kill me, but it hurt a lot. Like being starved and then choked with rich food.”
“Your society is seriously messed up.”
“That was only a mild punishment. And to be fair, I knew the consequences.”
“Okay, don’t help me if you’ll be punished. If you're hurt like that again....”
“I won’t plan on it but if I do help, they may put me in the Oubliette of Broken Walls for a hundred years or more which is like Solitary confinement but for reapers.”
“If that happens, I’ll break into it and find you.”
He patted the top of my head and I glowered at him.
“Don’t worry. It won’t happen. Now, do you have any other questions for me?”
I took out the book. “Feel like doing some reading?”
“Always,” He said then jerked his head to the side and sniffed the air. “But I think you’ve spent too long awake already.”
He reached out towards me.
“I’m fine! I’m not letting you—“
Before unconsciousness took me I heard a female reaper’s voice say, “You’re too kind, little brother.”
I dreamed of a conversation I couldn’t understand. The words swayed and jabbed at my very essence and I knew that not understanding them was the only thing that protected me.
I dreamed of four reapers descending to take Mr. Black away and a fifth kneeling down next to me.
She had thin eyebrows, a scar down her lips, and a lizard tattoo on her hand. Her eyes narrowed.
“...She’s far too resistant.”
The woman’s icy hand grabbed my wrist. The cold burned. I struggled.
I awoke screaming. My hand brushed against the floor of the main cavern and everyone peered at me, confused.
“That was a dream, right?”
The three shared a look.
“Absolutely,” Phenic said. “Sometimes you dream about fictional beings or people when you die and are reborn.”
“Are you talking about the...” I tried to say reapers but the word wouldn’t come out.
“Whatever you're trying to say. It was all in your silly imagination,” Phenic said pointedly. As he stared me down I understood that I shouldn’t know about the reapers, but since I did know, I shouldn’t talk about them. Not that I could.
My hand shook. “Yeah. It was just a bad dream,” I lied.
I had no idea what Mr. Black and those others spoke about but it couldn’t be good if he forced me to sleep again.
No matter what, I hoped he was safe.